“If you haven't experienced exile, if you haven't at least experienced a painful moment where things feel foreign, …disorienting, there's a good chance you’ve missed a massive segment of your life.” – Santosh John
Last year, I participated in a virtual conference for creatives sponsored by The Rabbit Room. One of the speakers was ministry leader Santosh John, an Indian American immigrant. He described his feelings of displacement as a young child trying to adjust to American culture. His words deeply resonated with me concerning care for returned global workers,
His statement, quoted above, reflects the returned global worker experience. For them, re-entry does feel foreign and disorienting. Home, in the traditional sense, doesn't really apply. They probably refer to their passport country as “home,” although it may no longer feel like home. Many of the familiarities of life they once knew are gone. They scramble to secure housing and transportation, friends have moved on, and family dynamics have changed. Turnover in staff at their supporting or sending church can heighten the feeling of alienation. Most of all, the reverse culture shock is, well, shocking. Like Joseph, waking up in Egypt, returned workers also wake up in a strange and foreign land, searching for stability.
"Like Joseph, waking up in Egypt, returned workers also wake up in a strange and foreign land, searching for stability."
Who will remember them and walk with them through their re-entry journey?
Healthy at Home
For those who have answered God's call to global missions, the local church should be their first line of loving support. After all, don’t we as believers also feel displaced, knowing that our true citizenship lies elsewhere? In his interview, John went on to say, "If you are an image-bearer, you have experienced exile of some sort… it's an exile on the way home." In our mutual displacement we share common ground, and that uniquely qualifies us to care for our brothers and sisters who return from the field.
Clark Reynolds, Missions Pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church, says it well, “We believe that sending and supporting global workers is vitally important in fulfilling the Great Commission, but it is only part of the story. Addressing their mental, physical, spiritual, and practical reentry needs are critical to a holistic, end-to-end care strategy.”
No matter the size of your church, your care team, or the number of global workers in your charge, there are five areas where any church can step in to help ensure workers are healthy at home:
Healthy Minds: Debriefing
Healthy Minds: Professional Christian Counseling
I will address each of these in subsequent articles.
Reentry care is a multi-faceted endeavor that requires constant tending, much like a garden. We want our workers to flourish and bloom, not die on the vine. Our faithful attention to their care is key to their health and longevity on the field.
"Reentry care is a multi-faceted endeavor that requires constant tending, much like a garden. Our faithful attention to their care is key to their health and longevity on the field."
This past year has been especially difficult. Failure to get visa renewal, country lockdowns, and problems raising support have intensified needs and resulted in extended or permanent returns for many. But even in the midst of Covid-19 there has been opportunity to bring global workers together with one another and to integrate them more fully into the life of the church. Their presence elevates the mission mindedness of the entire church community.
God has called them to evangelize the nations. Whether their return is temporary or permanent, your care team is an integral part of ministering to their health and wellness.
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;” (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living overseas. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.